“Is it safe to bike tour in New Zealand?”
We’ve been asked that question a lot lately, suggesting that recent high-profile collisions between cycle tourists and motorists, including the death of a young German woman in January 2010, are threatening to ruin New Zealand’s reputation as one of the world’s best places for bike touring.
Concerns about cycling safety won’t be anything new to local New Zealanders, especially those active in running safer cycling campaigns, not only to save lives but to protect the $320 million dollars in economic benefits that cycle touring brings to New Zealand every year.
“We are very concerned at the worsening state of many roads in NZ for cyclists,” Bevan Woodward, a spokesman for the Cycling Advocates Network, wrote in an email to TravellingTwo.
He pointed out, however, that cycling is still a relatively safe activity in New Zealand. You’re 3 times as likely to be injured if you drive around New Zealand in a car as on a bicycle, according to government statistics on CAN’s website.
To find out more about what bike touring is currently like in New Zealand, we asked for comments from several cyclists. Most of them are New Zealand citizens as well as avid bikers. We hope their thoughts will help you better understand the risks to be aware of if you’re going to New Zealand and also help you get the most out of New Zealand by avoiding the most dangerous situations.
The general points brought up by the people we talked to can be summed up as:
- Avoid the busiest roads and especially State Highway 1 – Staying away from highways makes sense in any country but especially in New Zealand, where the roads are often outdated and overcrowded. You can’t expect to always find a shoulder and because everyone on the highway is trying to get somewhere fast, they’re not patient either.
- Time your journeys – If you have to ride on a busy road, do it early in the morning when traffic is light.
- Stick to the South Island – There are 4 million people in New Zealand and 3 million of them live in the North Island. The South Island offers vastly quieter roads.
- Take advantage of dirt roads and trails – New Zealand has a wealth of wonderful cycling on unpaved roads so don’t come here with a racing bike. Instead, put fat tires on your bike and bring everything you need to camp out and cook for yourself.
You can get more information on touring New Zealand in our New Zealand Resources section, including suggestions for routes in New Zealand that we particularly enjoyed.
Now for the real experts: cyclists who either live in New Zealand or have been there very recently give their opinions. Scroll through their replies, or jump ahead to answers from Jonathan & Ruth Jarman, cycling advocates, David who runs the Cycle Tour NZ website and Chris & Liz, bike tourists who recently toured New Zealand.
Jonathan & Ruth Jarman, Cycling Advocates and Keen Bike Tourists
Cycling advocates Jonathan & Ruth, who live on the North Island of New Zealand and do regular bike tours, say the answer to the question “is NZ still safe for cyclists?” is a big “yes” with a little “but”.
“Ruth and I started cycle touring 30 years ago. Since then we have noticed a lot of changes in New Zealand. Thirty years ago touring cyclists were a novelty on many roads and it was common for people to wave. There was less traffic and it was cycling heaven. Tea was made with tea leaves and it was almost impossible to buy a decent coffee. Those were the days!
Since then the number of motor vehicles in New Zealand have increased significantly but the roads have not changed. Many of our main roads are narrow and poorly designed for cyclists. In recent years Ruth and I have changed the focus of our cycle touring in New Zealand to something we call heartland touring.”
Jonathan defines heartland touring as cycling that goes off the beaten track, onto New Zealand’s many cross-country roads like the unsealed Molesworth Road and Rainbow Road in the South Island, or the Forgotten Highway, Gentle Annie and the Rimutaka Incline in the North Island.
Read the full answer from Jonathan & Ruth Jarman
David, who runs the helpful Cycle Tour NZ bike touring website
“Unfortunately the death of touring cyclists is not an uncommon event now in New Zealand and there appears to be a general reluctance by the Government and New Zealand culture generally to accept we have a problem, primarily with the driving habits of our truck drivers,” David says.
He believes the North Island is the most dangerous and encourages cyclists to plan their trips accordingly.
“I would still tour New Zealand by bike but would head for the South Island and miss most of the North altogether.”
David also encourages cycle tourists who are worried about New Zealand as a bike touring destination write the press and government tourism office in New Zealand to express their concerns.
Read the full answer from David
Chris & Liz, bike tourists who recently toured New Zealand
Chris and Liz, a cycling couple on their way back to England by bike from New Zealand, have some upbeat news for anyone considering a bike tour in New Zealand.
“Our experience of cycling in both the north and south islands was very positive and compared to the UK and Australia, there is a lot less traffic on the roads in general – less people, less cars etc. We toured there from September to November 2009, so not in the main tourist season.”
They note that there often aren’t many roads to choose from and that trucks make up much of the traffic on the road, but say they were treated well by most drivers.
“We had no problem with the majority of trucks, they gave us space and on the whole seemed to drive with consideration. Some of the trucks knew they created a lot of draft and would warn us with a few beeps before overtaking. Car drivers are generally considerate and give you space, however there is a tendency to overtake for the sake of overtaking. So if a car is going 80km and another car comes up behind it, chances are they will overtake even if they don’t want to go any faster.”
“On the whole our over-arching feeling is that you have the road to yourself quite a lot, especially in the south island and it can be quiet and peaceful. We felt very safe and comfortable on the roads in NZ, with only the occasional car hating driver, that you get in any country.”
6th February 2010 at 8:01 pm #
You’ve made me a bit sad with this post. The driving back home is bad. I was quite upset and ashamed when Stephan Stoermer was killed there last year.
Anyway, one of the main suggestions from the Government’s public meetings on the recession was to build a cycle trail that runs the length of the country as a way to attract more cycle tourists and create jobs. I believe some money has already been allocated. Cycle trails on disused rail lines are popping up all over after the success of the Otago one, so perhaps there will be a safe offroad route one day. I would never do an onroad cycle trip during the post-Christmas summer break.
14th February 2010 at 9:37 am #
we are cycle tourists based in NZ 6 km north of Otorohanga North Island. We have just opened our accomodation for fellow cyclists. It is aptly named Pedalers Rest!
Our website should be up and running soon.
Cycling in NZ is unfortunately not as safe as it was and NZ drivers are not the best in the world. The best advice is not to ride the main roads so inside information will help. Otherwise we are usually a friendly lot and we would loveto see cycliss at our place!
Anita & Ian Bain
4th November 2015 at 1:37 am #
Hi I noted your website. But it seems old from 2010. I have enclosed my email address. I am planning to ride the length of new zealand but it does not seem safe. I hope to go in 2017.Any advice you may have would be grateful were to stay. Best roads to take etc. Kind regards . Richard Bollard
26th October 2016 at 11:46 am #
Hi – we are also planning an and to end cycle trip in 2017/18 – any nuggets that you can share?
7th December 2016 at 1:38 pm #
I will be cycling through North Island in a couple of weeks (December 2016) . I will be vloging and making daily videos about the roads, nature and such on my channel ‘Travelling Vegan and Frodo” , if you are keen to connect or watch, feel free to find me on YouTube. I will also be using Strava all the way, you can find me under the same name on Strava for my route and Garmin exports 🙂
20th February 2016 at 3:05 am #
Be afraid be very afraid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHTCs_h-mjc
14th February 2010 at 12:04 pm #
Here’s the latest news on the cycle trail development project:
26th April 2010 at 5:28 pm #
Hi, I cycled from Cape Reinga (top of the North Island) to Bluff (bottom of the South Island) over some 3500km in early 2009 and although cycling in NZ was amazing I found it sometimes hazardous to say the least.
I agree, Highway 1 should be avoided if at all possible and that the South Island is probably safer than the North but I had some of my best cycling days on the North Island so to miss it out completely would be a shame.
However, in over 20 years of cycling I have never had so many negative cycling experiences as I had in my 3-months cycling around NZ. Many many cars did not pull out to over take and logging trucks were the worst (I have scuff marks on my inside pannier from being blown off the road against the crash barrier to prove it). I also experienced road rage many times on the North Island the worst being on a quiet lane in the middle of nowhere where I was chased off the road by kids in a car as they stood up out the sunroof and threw things at me!!!! I also met other fellow cyclists who had bottles and eggs thrown at them too.
I think you just have to be careful really; use a rear view mirror, always wear bright clothing, stay as far left on the road as possible, always use a cycle lane/hard shoulder if provided and try to explore quiet roads and tracks. Happy cycling, JB
1st September 2010 at 3:35 pm #
that really sounds terrible. I am planning a bluff-to-cape trip myself around february/march 2011. Been a frequent traveller to NZ in the past, never with a bicycle though.
I am not yet sure if to travel with a road bike (thin 700/23 tyres) or a trekking/hybrid bike with fat typres (700/28++). I would prefer the “sportive” version, but that would mean to stay on main roads. After having spotted your comment on saftey; I am not sure that would be a good choice. What do you think? What type of bike were you riding on your tour?
Thanks for any advice or infos
1st September 2010 at 3:56 pm #
I would wholeheartedly recommend going equipped to ride the trails. Quite apart from safety issues, the most amazing scenery is “out there” in the back country. Book a bit more time (don’t expect to do long daily distances on dirt tracks) and enjoy the beautiful views that NZ has to offer.
27th November 2010 at 12:11 pm #
After I heard about the 5 fatal cycling accidents within 5 days, I followed the cycling safety discusion in the NZ Herald online forum. I now think, cycling across NZ is probably not the best idea I had. Maybe, its is sort of an over-reaction on my part, but I cancelled all the booking arrangements (flight, rental bike) and start planning from scratch – maybe CAnada coast-to-coast or Australia.
5th May 2010 at 6:32 pm #
A friend and I are planning to do a NZ tour on June-July 2011. But these news have me shocked, and since we have absolutely no experience in road cycling (only the normal cyling in parks) I am a bit scared that something might happen.
I would be very thankful if someon could give us some advice as to which routes are safer for cycling. We will arrive to Auckland and stay 2 months in the country. We would like to get the most beauty of the country, hopefully from the north and south islands.
Please we need some advice!!! and thanks to you all.. this website is the best I have found!
12th October 2010 at 12:14 am #
I personally wouldn’t be all too concerned over safety on our roads. January/Feb this year I biked from Christchurch to Hamilton and back, and to be honest this was the best vacations I have had to date. I only had one minor incident in Kaiapoi where someone threw an empty drink bottle at me. Apart from this one incident I was quite surprised by how interested everyone were in what I was doing. When I stopped in at cafes or just parked outside the public toilets it was hard to get away sometimes as the people were just soooo interested in what I was doing. My biggest worry was always getting to my next destination on time, not the people, as were really friendly and kind. I found drivers to be really friendly and got many toots and waves, and I also recieved a whistle blow from every train that went by. I do worry however that some of these posts are giving a bad impression of NZ as a safe and beautiful country in which to bike, and may put people off biking here. We may have all had a couple of bad experiences but I still believe overall this is a magnificent country in which to bike and that you would be doing yourself an injustice if you avoided biking the country due to just a couple of idiots on the road. I enjoyed my first bike ride so much that this in Nov/Dec I am biking Bluff to Cape Reinga and am not expected to come across any trouble on the roads.
12th October 2010 at 8:46 am #
That’s great Matthew! It’s really nice to hear a positive report. I agree there’s a fine line between being aware of issues, and scaring people off. New Zealand does have some fantastic scenery and people. It would be great to know which roads you used in the North Island in particular.
12th October 2010 at 9:50 am #
Out of Wellington I just went through on the road parallel to the motor way (or SH1) to Porirua where I joint on to SH1 there were quite a few bike trails that went alongside the highway and even when there wasn’t it was still such a pleasure to bike on. I carried on down SH1 to SH57 then SH56 and into P.N. From here I took SH3 to Wanganui and then SH4 to Taumaranui and then SH3 to SH4 enroute to Hamilton. From here SH1 to Tokoroa and then on to Taupo then SH5 to Napier and then SH2 back to P.N. Hope this helps you. Its really just the main traffic route but a lot of these main highways dont really get much traffic anyway XD
12th October 2010 at 10:01 am #
Good to know! We also took the SH1 out of Wellington, but I think we carried on further north than you, towards Foxton and Bulls. It was that stretch that I remember as being a bit dangerous. There’s one bridge in particular, just before you come into Foxton, which is pretty hairy. It’s simply not wide enough, and on the day we were there the cars really didn’t want to slow down (they were trying to pass us, even though there was oncoming traffic). Once we turned off the SH1, we had a beautiful ride through the back roads though.
17th October 2010 at 2:52 pm #
let us know how you are doing on your Bluff-to-Cape tour.
And what do you mean by “… biggest worry was always getting to my next destination on time”?
I am currently planning a tour in February 2011. Although I have some ideas about possible routes, I won’t go as far as setting daily destination stops for my tour in advance. It will be more like “wake up (early) in the morning .. see how I feel .. look at the weather forecast) .. and than decide on how far to go and try to get a reservation at some hostel or motel near the destination location” .
Does that approach seem too optimistic. Do I have to plan further in advance in order to ensure accommodation?
Thanks for any hints
18th October 2010 at 4:33 am #
I think your way sounds like a great way of doing it and I’m sure at that time of year you would have no difficulty securing accommodation. My biggest worry was always getting to my next destination on time because I had a very precise schedule, as I had booked with friends and family along the road before I even left, giving them the exact night I would be arriving. I also had tight time restrictions so that I could arrive home before uni started. The reason it was a worry is that some days I had preplanned were as big at 190km and then if you end up with bad weather that can be a bit of a struggle. However having met a number of other cyclists on the road it would seem that this is rather excessive in comparison to what the normal cyclist bikes.
If you are looking for cheap accomodation (as I was because I’m just a student) then booking backpackers in advance is probably a good idea, however I do not think that will be necessary for you seeing you are biking in February, although I’m not certain about this, I don’t think accommodation is as short at that time of year in comparison to that of the months December/January.
All the best in finding roads you are happy biking on
3rd February 2011 at 6:42 am #
hi Matthew, thanks for your input, puts my mind at ease some. i am planning a rather direct, speedy ride from Auckland to Invercargill mid april. i was thinking Te Chaki rd, thermal explorer hwy etc into hamilton, SH3 and 4 to Taumaranui, 4 and 3 to Bulls, then SH1 to Paraparaumu and onto Wellington. i will begin sunday april 17th out of auckland. avid roadie so not timid of motorists but dont want to die either. should i avoid SH1 altogether? fingers crossed that the weather holds for me. any advice?
3rd February 2011 at 11:50 am #
I finished my bike ride from bluff to cape reinga and back to invercargill, it took me 6 weeks, I never had any problem with traffic as it doesnt really bother me either,When i did my bike ride i just always took the shortest possible route, which happens to be SH1 most of the time… I never had any trouble i think your planning on taking the same route as me, and i do asure you it is a great one, amazing scenery esp between taumarunui and wanganui, i think youll love it.
Hope you have great weather (i was lucky as the country was in the middle of a drought YUS!!)
all the best
17th October 2010 at 2:31 pm #
As mentioned in an earlier post, I was planning a Bluff-to-Cape tour in February 2011 on a road bike. As a result from several (diverse) feedback I got in the web community, I changed the plan. Now, its a touring bike (700×32) and its no longer Bluff-to-Cape but Bluff-to-Auckland, which gives me more time to stay away from state highways and ride on community roads (especially on North Island). Nevertheless, I would prefer sealed roads and I am looking for web sites with road surface information for such country roads. For instance Raglan Road, Kawhia Rd in the west or TeApitit Road, between Kairakau und Waimarama. Routing with google-maps, google-earth or garmin mapsource (using openGPS NZ ) is not always consistent.
Thanks for any hints
27th November 2010 at 9:27 am #
I have just started a Bluff to Cape Reinga Journey on my recumbent trike. I started on Thursday and started a bit further south than some other who start at the end of the SH1. I rode couple km on the walkaway and back 🙂
I am probably going to do this slowest of any cyclist.
Because I am a paraplegic and recovering, I am on the flat about half as fast as others. I will get fitter along the journey as I get to those hills. I have 42 gears on my trike so I should be able to crawl up any hill?
Another challenge at the moment is that I am my own support vehicle driver!
I need to ride my trike some distance and then hitch hike to recover my campervan and drive to where I left my trike locked on a traffic sign.
You will find me on Facebook.
5th January 2013 at 10:24 am #
I remember reading about this on Stuff. Evidently your cause does not receive much recognition, even from the cycling community (I have always held the opinion that people should be taking the ease of their mobility a lot less for granted), but much respect regardless!
6th December 2010 at 10:55 am #
Is it safe to cycle in New Zealand? If you wish to take your life in your hands, then go ahead. Generally speaking, the principle of law on the road in NZ, is simply, the bigger your vehicle, the more rights you have, or conversly, the smaller your vehicle….etc. New Zealand motorists have a very big attitude problem, and it comes out in the way they drive, or should l say ‘propell’ their vehicles. Probably this attitude stems from the fact that there is little or no law enforcement on the roads in New Zealand. If you adopt a ‘every man for himself’ attitude, then you may just survive, but personally, you wouldn’t ever get me on a bicycle in New Zealand ever again. Simply, l value my life too much… Theres plenty of other countries that are safer……
20th December 2010 at 10:51 am #
I have just returned from a 5 week tour of the South Island (crazyguyonabike slowtour). Yes cycle touring is a relatively more dangerous activity than some (and a little more dangerous than driving)and some roads are definately more dangerous than others. In my experience NZ roads & drivers were much the same as along the East Coast of Australia (I am from Hobart and have ridden from there to Brisbane). If the roads are ok, the drivers gave me plenty of room. If the roads were narrow, a small percentage would just bowl through & hope for the best whether there is enough room or not. I relied on a helmet mirror to see when heavy traffic was going to meet next to me in both directions on a narrow road – then I would often get off the road onto the grass. Not always possible but it usually did the trick. I did have 2″ tyres that gave me some stabiity when I went off the shoulder.
Like many others before me I experienced wonderful hospitality from strangers in NZ and no incidences of road rage at all in 5 weeks and 2,000k I travelled on the South Island. It is also true that for most of the roads I travelled in Sth NZ I saw relatively little traffic (I avoided the busiest highways).
I was cycling in NZ when those 5 cyclists were killed in the one week. I don’t know any of the details but it did bring it home that the roads are a dangerous place – not forgetting that many more motorists are killed on the roads each year and I drive a car during the year as well. We all seem to become used to the motor road toll and drive often without a second thought. Yes cycling is somewhat more dangerous but that isn’t going to stop me from doing what I love instead of travelling around the world in a tin box & missing the best experiences 🙂
Look at the risks with open eyes, plan properly, wear bright coloured cothing, use a mirror, and get out there & enjoy yourself.
3rd February 2011 at 6:12 am #
well said. though in all my years of touring no one has ever thrown a bottle at me… i see mention of that happening to more than one person in the above comments. has me wondering bout those kiwis
3rd February 2011 at 10:25 am #
I found a piece of sealed road which was totally safe from car drivers.
That was a canal road to Tekapo parallel to SH8. That road was closed to vehicle traffic but I managed to sneak past the gate and I had 11km of road just for myself with tailwind and pretty flat road. Cyclists Nirvana, eh?
3rd February 2012 at 2:13 am #
In my opinion, New Zealand drivers are the worst in the Western World! I have lived in many countries, driven on both sides of the road, in both cities and countryside and nowhere is it as bad as NZ. I wouldn’t even attempt to cycle on any highway in NZ. These are often single laned, winding roads with speeds the same as any 3-4 lane motorway. It deeply saddens me that I am unable to ‘go green’ in my own country even though we advertise ourselves as 100% PURE. There are few cycle lanes, often no alternative routes to avoid highways, parents are allowed to teach their kids to drive (reinforcing all their horrendous driving habits) and hey-presto…you get a license to drive a vehicle. I think most NZ’ers treat driving like sport – they are desperately trying to beat all the other cars on the road, be the fastest, cut the most corners – they just don’t have the skills to drive properly.
Good luck with the cycling!
6th November 2012 at 11:57 pm #
Great news for those planning a cycling holiday in New Zealand. The Kennett Brothers have published a new guidebook to 46 cycling trails (http://www.kennett.co.nz/index.php/Books/ClassicNewZealandCycleTrails). This includes all the new NZ Cycle Trail Great Rides, and a bunch of quiet backroads. (Disclaimer: I helped edit this fine book.) So if you want to avoid busy highways, come to New Zealand and take your pick of off- and on-road trails.
20th December 2012 at 2:16 am #
Maybe brave last words, but honestly speaking, I have no problems riding on the highways of NZ. I’m now in my second week of journey in NZ and 99% of the drivers make room for you. The 1% that doesn’t races by you, but still there is room of 30 to 50 cm. This is of course very little space when you think there is a speeding difference of many km’s, but I rather focus on the good side. So far, ALL truckers pass me with a wide margin of at least a meter or many times much more, seeing them partly driving on the opposite lane. Truckdrivers are good. It’s the normal cars that make me scare sometimes, when the rush by at 100 km’s with just a few decimeters between me and death.
In any case, death comes from behind and most likely, you won’t see it coming. So I relax, give room to truckers and keep a close watch at my mirror whenever possible.
During rain time I suggest you wear a safety jacket (you know, the bright neon coloured ones).
1st April 2013 at 11:22 pm #
just thought i would put in here that NZ now has the cycle ways through out NZ that offer great cycle paths for people touring and most are back roads
2nd April 2013 at 1:19 am #
Yes, new cycleways are popping up everywhere.
But if you are touring on a recumbent trike like I did, those are not much use as the cycleways are coarse gravel with two smoother paths where mountainbikes have been ridden and rough ridge on the middle! On a recumbent trike you make 3 tracks instead of one!
This means that you can only ride with one wheel on a smooth path while the other two slow you down on rough gravel!
15th July 2013 at 6:32 am #
are newzealand roads safe? from what?3m wide coaches on 2.8m
wide lanes, from idiots who think chucking empty’s,is fair sport, from b double milk trucks that weigh in at 65ton on 2.8m lanes. the thing about newzealand roads is there worth the risk to ride on , to see the land. but you must definately get and learn to read maps, research your routes, talk to folk, stay off sh1, say again stay off sh1
first ride in 96 last one 2010, a couple in between, some days mavora lake road comes to mind, might be another one in these legs.
23rd January 2016 at 12:21 am #
I’m a kiwi, just cycled before Christmas on SH 1 from Chch to Dunedin, then just after New Year’s from Dunedin to West Coast, then down to & across Heaphy Track (walking the bike). Tomorrow I will ride from Golden Bay to Nelson, then to Picton. Met many cyclists, chatted. Mostly positive reports. Only a couple of negatives. First time riding long-distance in South Island, but I’ve cycled several times between Wellington & Wanganui, Palmerston North, Napier/Hastings, Bay of Plenty, Auckland, Kerikeri, Cape Reinga. I will ride up to Auckland, maybe to Cape Reinga. In many years of riding (20 years) I have only experienced a handful of negative incidents. Been passed by hundreds, maybe thousands of trucks, only three or so ever gave me a fright-too close or too fast. Only a few cars the same. Never had anything thrown at me while cycling (although once when hitch-hiking a yobbo threw a full bottle of beer at me. Downside-sore shoulder for a week or so/upside-had a nice cold refreshing drink just when I needed it in the hot sun). The only things I haven’t liked in NZ cycling are all the road-kill, too hot sun/too cold wet, battling head-winds, long narrow bridges… 🙂 But that is par for the course. I have never been afraid to cycle on SH 1 & other main highways. The fear is over-blown, the danger exaggerated. Ride sensibly, keep close to the white line on the side of the road in traffic, stop, pull over sometimes to let trucks/vans etc pass & everything will be copacetic.
1st December 2013 at 2:06 am #
here is a copy of a message I sent to Tourism Industry Association 03 November “Are Cycling Tours party to the Adventure Tourism Safety programme? Many Cycle Tours underatke unsafe practice which places their party at undue risk on the open road. This is often evedent on narrow and winding road with little or no warning to traffic form behind. I would hope it isnt a case of wait untill there is a multiple fatality before there safety is considered seriously” I never received a response so again I have re written as of yesterday 29 November ”
Any answer to the above question? again today, around a sharp , blind corner, then found road covered with bicycles struggling up a hill, and a support van right on their tail all doing walking speed. The safety of these cyclists was seriosly compromised particularily the way some people take on blind corners. the person in charge of the group i spoke to didnt seem concerned at all. I have seen farnmer driving stock on the road offering great safety for their stock than these cycle groups do for their clients”
Cycle Tour Companies fall way short of offering a safe cycling environment and fall well short of their ‘Duty of Care’ to ensure their safety.
21st December 2013 at 12:24 am #
I’ve just arrived back from a tour in New Zealand, South Island, which I cut short (the road part) at the halfway point after deciding the traffic felt too dangerous and one too many near-misses.
As positives I would say that the truck drivers and ute drivers were excellent, giving me loads of room, much better than other countries I’ve cycled. It’s also the only bike tour where I’ve experienced so much positive encouragement from some people driving past, people waving, clapping and lots of thumbs-ups from people which was an unfamiliar boost at times. Of course it goes without saying that the landscape is incredible.
As negatives, firstly, there is no hard shoulder 50% of the time and the cars/trucks/trailers are doing 100mph or more which can be terrifying if one comes too close. Most drivers are great, but one in every 200 or so could absolutely make me fear for my life. The day I decided to quit the roads I was passed at high speed by a car towing a speedboat, the fabric boat cover actually physically whipped me on the arm, I cycled the next 70kms in total fear for my safety and by the end of that day’s ride had firmly decided I wouldn’t be risking cycling on the roads again. I think the main problem with this is that the boat trailers were often about half a foot wider on each side than the car towing them, so people weren’t judging the width of their vehicle. Also in the Mid-South, lots of lakes = lots of boats being towed. Before the end of that day’s ride I also had several cars from the opposite carriageway overtaking in to my path, and once one person went for it, several always follow, I had to pull off the road altogether when this was happening. As has also been said above, everyone is also trying to cover long distances very fast and drivers are ‘in the zone’ not thinking about slowing down and if there wasn’t room in the other lane to overtake me safely, it seemed quite a few would rather give me the close shave than anticipate, slow down and wait for room. They say to avoid the main highways, however you’ll be lucky travelling south if you can find many secondary roads that link up, so for a bike tour you kind of need to use the highways most of the time. I also found the hills really scary because there isn’t enough stopping distance for the blind turns and I witnessed many drivers cutting the hard shoulder and taking the racing line, by the end I would either walk, or cycle through the gutter at the side of the road.
Generally I came to the conclusion that traditional road touring is the wrong type of cycling to be doing in New Zealand, I personally think it’s too dangerous and I couldn’t enjoy the scenery or nature because of the traffic effect. I would love to cycle there again, but would plan things much differently. After quitting the road, I took the bike on the bus to Queenstown for the last couple of days to ride their dedicated scenic cycle paths which were a breath of fresh air and felt amazing without the traffic. Between Queenstown, Arrowtown, Gibbston and Jack’s Point there are 118km of interlinking cycle trails which are gravel, but fine for a 700 x 35 tyre. There are numerous other long trails like these all over the country, such as the canal trail which I think starts at Twizel, Otago rail trail and several converted rail trails and more.
My advice is, think differently about cycling in New Zealand because it’s too stunning to miss and the proper bike trails (that are everywhere) are too good to be choosing a busy road over them. Forget the interlinking, seamless road tour and instead rent a car or camper with a bike rack so you can go between the best scenic trails and minor roads that don’t link up. The mountain bike is king in New Zealand, but there are enough good bike trails in New Zealand that are fine for a touring bike to keep you busy for a very long time, you just need a safe means of transport to get you between them.
24th February 2014 at 9:15 am #
Just a heads up if you plan to get off the train at Arthur’s Pass and ride west, don’t do it. Have someone take you the first 7k where there is no shoulder, blind curves and huge milk tank trucks loving the downs more than me. Thank The Lord my husband has better hearing than me and could hear them coming so we could get way off the road. Or we would be dead. No this is not suitable for 12 and up as our guide advertised. Maybe a triathlon type athlete but honestly it is very dangerous. I felt like you. I could not enjoy the beautiful scenery because I was on guard to dodge the trucks! Then the winds in the Alps come up and hold tight when a truck races past and have a strong biker leading you head on to 40mph headwind. Then pray for the turn and the blessed unsealed road. Then realize the unsealed roads are very rough and what we call a gravel road with washboard or what they call corrugated surface. You better be in top fitness or your arms will be stiff the next day from all the shaking. We have a bridge in Boise made from horizontally laid railroad ties and we are always so happy to make it across the 40 or so feet. Imagine miles like that. And that shaking takes the fun out of the downs. Anyway it did my bottom in and I took a rest in day three. Day four was lovily like biking on very quiet roads thru farmland and enjoyed nice roads and people. If We did it again. We would rent a car with a bike rack and only on the South Island. If you don’t own at least two matching skinny bike shorts and jerseys do not bike in NZ unless it is in Rotorua or Queenstown where they have dedicated bike paths. Loved NZ but it is good to be home in Idaho where we have many dedicated bike paths and quiet roads. But even Idaho where we have wide roads and 1.5 mil people in the whole state, we hear of bike and car accidents. Be safe and share the road!
26th July 2014 at 11:27 pm #
Sad to say I think I’ll have to give up my dream of making a full cycle tour of NZ. Over the years I’ve had had enough bumps & close calls to be afraid of riding on highways without shoulders. Cycling the odd trail and having to drive a rented car between trails just doesn’t appeal to me. 🙁
26th December 2013 at 7:51 am #
I have done it now, yesterday completed the last 10 km linking my two journeys spanning 21 years across New Zealand!
I came from Australia to NZ for a cycling holiday in 1992 and did two trips from Auckland.
First a return journey to Surville Cliffs in North Cape, the most Northernmost point of NZ. Went up more westernly route and up The 90 Mile Beach. Broke my distance record, 59km in two hours with touring gear on right on the 90 Mile Beach!
I had low tide and heavy tailwind helping me!
Then after returning to Aukland did a return trip to Rotorua returning via SH1 from Tirau. Did my personal speed record somewhere near Rotorua following old Ford, 81km/h maximum speed on a long downhill! Had thick slick tyres on which helped with speed 🙂
Then after the trip I immigrated to NZ from Australia as I had so much fun on my holiday.
Life took over and I did occasional cycle touring trips until I had my paragliding accident in 1997!
Some doctors must have thought my legs were useless as I was told by them that I would never walk again! They did not know me and slowly I have gradually recovered and walk with sticks now and ride a recumbent trike pedaling with my feet! Do not give me that sorry look, I am enjoying my life more now than before I almost lost it all.
I missed freedom of cycling and got myself a recumbent trike some 6 years ago. That was a Greenspeed GTO with 14 speed Rohloff rear hub. I invented new type of pedals as I still have a foot drop and can not use normal pedals.
Then in 25th of November 2010 I started from Bluff to ride whatever I can and improve my fitness. Plan was to cycle, kayak and walk inbetween across New Zealand.
I could not carry enough supplies to make the journey unsupported so I took my mobile home with me as every night home base. The dilemma was that I could not find anybody to be my support driver so I did the driving and cooking myself.
The trick to do both riding the trike and driving my van was to hitch a ride between my van and trike!
South Island was almost uneventfull but got stuck in the midst of February 22 2011 earthquake in Christchurch! Before it my arrival to Christchurch was witnessed by thousands as I arrived on the same day as Coast To Coast race. So I did 45km that day and rode all the way to Sumner and Police gave me a free ride through the traffic lights turned off. People were quite confused of me going through the racers chute in Sumner but then I explained what my stunt was about and got some muted cheers!
I arrived in Picton in May and Interislander sponsored my trip across the Cook Strait with my van. Some of the staff drove my van in and out of the ferry while I rode my trike in and out of the ferry.
North Island was pretty easy at start and I used mainly SH1.
I did not find the SH1 particularly dangerous! Riding my trike slowly and listening the traffic was the key to safe ride. Another thing is that I have mirrors on both sides and can see what is happening behind me.
But after riding in winter I started getting tired and had joint pains.
In Putaruru in early July I felt I better stop before my health gets worse. It got worse as I got diagnosed with mercury poisoning. I got my offending amalgam fillings replaced in Thailand last August and now feel better.
So if you are still reading, thanks for your time and remember that you can get better after a major trauma in your lifeand you would be a better person after if you choose so.
After pausing in Putaruru, couple weeks later I remembered that I did north part of North Island in 1992!
I was just missing a mere 10 kilometres from Putaruru to Tirau to complete my epic journey across New Zealand on human power!
Yesterday I did it, took me 21 years to meet up with the route my younger self did 21 years ago!
So there you have it, I did it for myself yesterday, I had to complete my journey because now I can tell to all you doubting Thomases that I can do it despite the way I walk.
Maybe I got better treatment and getting noticed as I use a recumbent trike. I would not say it is too dangerous to cycle on SH1 or North Island but you have to be alert and take all precautions you can. I am more worried about air pollution and my hearing being damaged by enthusiastic drivers who support me by a friendly toot right next to my right ear! I ended up wearing an earplug on my right ear on SH1.
26th December 2013 at 7:59 am #
The route yesterday between Putaruru and Tirau was to take a quiet country road instead of SH1. This road avoids the narrow bottleneck, railway underpass, just before Tirau.
This route was awesome, about same distance and I only saw about 10 cars on 10 km distance. These kind of alternative cycling routes should be signposted for cyclists as not everyone uses Google Maps.
12th September 2014 at 3:03 am #
I’ve cycled many countries, some were good some less. I love nz and many of its people, but I do not like that statistically it’s one of the deadliest countries for cyclists worldwide. If you come from overseas you soon realise that as a cyclist you aren’t welcome among motorists and that in general they aren’t used to or simply don’t care about a bicycle riders. After the china est cost it’s the country I feel the most unsafe, which isn’t a very flat ting comparison. Still hope for a major petrol crisis (lol) which might teach dum people better than signboards or some laws.
17th September 2014 at 9:35 am #
I guess I got a tough skin back home here, since I cycle like a madman myself. The Kiwi’s driving skills seemed perhaps normal to me then.
Your mileage may vary.
6th February 2015 at 12:16 pm #
Still more deaths in New Zealand – be careful out there!
12th April 2015 at 5:42 am #
I just completed a 3 and 1/2 month cycle trip, made it to the tip of the North Cape Ringa to the bottom of the South Bluff, all went well, 99.5 percent of all drivers trucks cars etc gave you space, many slowed down. I cycled both the state highways and back country roads. New Zealand sealed roads can be rough, many of the back roads that are sealed are smoother than the main roads. Just remember there is barely any road that is flat.
26th October 2015 at 12:06 pm #
If a picture paints a thousand words, how many does a video paint? Here are some of my experiences of cycling in New Zealand! YouTube video “Why New Zealand’s cyclists need helmet cameras”
6th December 2015 at 11:49 pm #
I am a UK based cycle tourist of many thousand miles experience. i have just decided against a trip to NZ.
Disincentives to plans for a cycle tour of NZ are, in rising order of importance;
1. The cost of getting there.
2. Other travellers reports of spitting and bottle throwing from car passengers.
3. The news that children are allowed to drive motor vehicles from the age of 15.
4. Other travellers reports of generally really bad driving standards.
5. Compulsory cycle helmets. (if the locals think it’s that bad, I don’t want to go there).
9th December 2015 at 9:18 pm #
I lived in NZ for 4 years and didn’t form a nice opinion of drivers when I was there. There’s far too much of a Jeremy Clarkson type attitude – always treating cars as king and people on bikes as irritating nuisances that should get off the road if they want to live. I wouldn’t go to NZ for a cycling holiday, that’s for sure. There are many safer places with equally nice scenery.
18th March 2016 at 9:23 pm #
Unfortunately New Zealand drivers have an appalling attitude toward cyclists. Here is an example of what you may face when cycling in New Zealand.
This video can also be found by searching on the terms: New Zealand, road rage, death threats, cyclists, Samantha Brown.
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Sennheisers have this feature, and just about everybody secretly hates it, because: a) you can’t just replace the cheap cable with a good one, and b) the lock breaks under a few months of use by a typical user.
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